I came to Israel in 1967 following my two-year service in the American Army. I made a rule not to vote in American elections even though as a citizen with an honorable discharge I had every legal and moral right to do so. I thought it improper to vote for representatives and polices of a country I was not living in. In 2012 – after 45 years – I broke that rule. Why?
The initial reason was Netanyahu's tasteless interference in the American political process using individual and organizational surrogates. The hysterical and delusional rants against Obama that filled the Jewish blogosphere were embarrassing. That 70% of American Jewry still voted for Obama gave me hope regarding the ability of human reason to resist demagoguery. Romney's behavior was no better. By conducting an election campaign and fund raising dinner in Israel (where Bibi all but endorsed him) he introduced an unwelcome and dangerous precedent into Israeli and American politics and into the Israeli-American relationship.
Deeper reasons have to do with my belief that the three foundations of America's greatness are constitutionalism, science and capitalism. These are three self-correcting systems which, in combination, have enabled the United States to self-correct and adapt to a continuous procession of critical challenges and threats. The current Republican Party has botched all three areas.
The national Republican strategy to suppress the vote in swing states was Jim Crow 2.0 trying to hide behind the false issue of voter fraud. Don't get me wrong; I believe that the lack of uniform voter I.D. (with photo) is a terrible flaw in the American system which ironically harms qualified voters by forcing many to submit complicated provisional ballots which can be easily disqualified. A uniform national voter I.D. would eliminate this anti-democratic phenomenon (perhaps a photo Social Security card with current address). But, to the best of my knowledge, no voter in recent elections has been prosecuted for impersonating someone else. Most fraud has been found in the registration process and anecdotal evidence indicates that the Republicans are guiltier than the Democrats.
The issue of voter fraud is itself a fraud, and the party of Lincoln should be ashamed of itself. Republican tactics in pursuit of this issue are reminiscent of the Soviet Union's tactics to forestall the creation of a vigorous civil society – the tactics of long lines. During my first years in Israel I met many Soviet émigrés who disabused me of the notion that long lines in the Soviet Union were solely the result of the inherent inefficiencies of the communist system. While not denying these inefficiencies, they made the case that long lines were a deliberate policy designed to enervate Soviet citizens, thus thwarting the development of civil society. A citizen kept in a constant state of exhaustion and anxiety is easily malleable.
I was reminded of this argument when I saw television images of voting lines six hours long. These lines were a direct result of Republican state officials making it difficult for people of color and limited means to vote by lessening early voting options and not making proper alternative provisions on Election Day. These tactics constitute an unforgivable crime against America's constitutionalist principles as they have developed and expanded over the years. For this alone the Republicans deserved to lose. But current Republican attitudes towards capitalism and science are no less destructive.
I believe in social contract capitalism in which there is a palpable social contract between owners, workers and community. I believe in reformist capitalism as represented by Republicans Teddy Roosevelt and William Howard Taft. I do not believe in burnt earth capitalism as exemplified by Bain Capital closing down a profitable factory in Indiana and sending it to China in order to make slightly more profit with no concern for the workers or the impact on the town.
The United States was established on scientific principles and became a world power because of its respect for and investment in science and education. Benjamin Franklin was a world renowned scientist. Thomas Jefferson's entire career was infused with scientific thinking: from the Declaration of Independence ("Nature's Laws") to his instructions to the Lewis and Clark expedition to gather extensive scientific data about the flora, fauna, and inhabitants of the areas being explored. The Federalist Papers and the Constitutional debate were redolent with scientific metaphor. The power granted to Congress under Article I, section 8, clause 8 of the Constitution: "To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the Exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries…" is key to America's subsequent economic might and technological superiority.
Jefferson despised ignorance: "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be." If being a true American patriot means to defend freedom in a state of civilization then pandering to ignorance for momentary gain borders on subversion. This subversion is characteristic of the current (not historic) Republican party. Several examples will suffice. Prominent Republicans have advocated the disbandment of the Department of Education and cuts to scientific research. Bobby Jindal has signed into law educational curricula that in essence say that "The Flintstones" is a documentary; that dinosaurs and human beings lived at the same time. As a Rhodes Scholar and honor student in biology at an Ivy League University, he certainly knows better. In 2012, Texas Republicans approved a platform which included positions on education. In it they opposed the teaching of "higher order thinking skills" (otherwise known as critical thinking) arguing it might challenge "student's fixed beliefs" and undermine "parental authority." This is a recipe for ignorance if there ever was one.
I am a person who believes that rumors of America's decline have been greatly exaggerated; that the United States is still the last great hope of humankind. But only if it follows policies that enhance the robustness of its three self-correcting systems: constitutionalism, capitalism and science. Current Republican attitudes to all three weaken America and by weakening America endanger all of America's allies – including Israel. That is why I voted for Obama.